Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Thursday, May 30, 2013


By Sunderlal Behruaa / Dispur

Decades of militancy have pushed Assam back by ages, economically and otherwise. Now as the state finds a semblance of normalcy, there’s a new menace threatening to undo all the good work over the years. It’s the Maoists. While no incident of violence by the Left ultras has been registered so far, there are clear indications that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is making a serious effort to strengthen its base in the state. The broader aim is to make it part of the zones under their control.
However, not many think it’s a new threat. “Assam has many Maoist sympathisers since the 1970s, when the Naxalbari movement gained momentum in West Bengal. But Maoism was never considered a force to reckon with in the state with nationalist issues always dominating the popular public discourse. However, with the strength of the separatist Ulfa on the wane, and large scale resentment on the state of development in the region as articulated in several popular movements, the Maoists now seem to be looking for some foothold in the state,” Chandan Kumar Sharma, professor at the Department of Sociology, Tezpur University told INN from Tezpur.

The Maoists normally tap into popular discontent to set foot among the target population. Their modus operandi involves identifying sections of the people who are unhappy with the government and take up their cause. Of course, poverty, struggle for land and unemployment are easy issues to capitalize on.

Lack of development, particularly in the rural areas, provides an ideal ground for the Maoists, said Sharma. “Development is Assam has been mostly urban-centric. Rural areas have always been neglected. In these conditions, it is easy for the youth to get disoriented,” the professor added. Assam Director General of Police (DGP) Jayanta Narayan Chowdhury agreed on the potential target groups for the Maoists. “Generally they look for people who are against the government for consolidation of their base.”

For a state which is already losing massive swathes of land due to floods and erosion every year, the proposed hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh come as another huge challenge for its people. Worse, there are no proper rehabilitation schemes. The Maoists may be trying to infiltrate this section of people who are already up against these infrastructure projects. There are allegations that Maoist elements have already entered the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), which is spearheading the anti-dam protests in the state. Thousands of people flock when these protests are held anywhere in Assam.

“As per our estimate, four lakh people are living on embankments in Assam as their houses were swept away by rivers. The government data keeps the number at one lakh. And if the ultra mega power projects come up in Arunachal Pradesh, a huge section of the population will lose their land. These people join our protests. If the government fails to take care of these issues, it is not impossible for individuals to join the Maoists,” said KMSS publicity secretary Kamal Medhi. He, however, denied that KMSS was associated with any kind of Left-wing extremism. “We only believe in Left ideologies. We are not connected with any other like-minded political parties, leave alone CPI (Maoist).”

Sharma agreed. “The number of landless people in Assam is increasing day by day. During floods, large areas are prone to sand siltation, making land useless for farming. Also the hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh threaten a huge number of people downstream. We have already seen how people in Assam’s Lakhimpur district suffer when water is released from the Ranganadi Hydroelectic Project in Arunchal Pradesh.”

Accentuating the matter is the failure of the political leadership to address local issues which might turn big later. There are complaints that the state government is not doing enough for the tea garden community also considered vulnerable to Maoist ambitions.

“We have told Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi many times. However, there is hardly any serious response. Due to increasing unemployment among youths of the tea garden community and lack of development in the tea estates, these youths may get attracted towards Maoist activities,” senior tea community leader and Congress MLA Rameswar Dhanowar told INN from Guwahati.

Sharma, while accepting that the prevailing situation in the tea gardens was not good, also blamed the political leaders from the tea garden community for this predicament. “So many tea garden leaders have been ministers and MLAs all these years. Paban Singh Ghatowar is also a Union minister. Why have they not done anything so far? They are equally at fault. Illiteracy is high and the wrong policy of labour retention is prevalent in tea gardens. The provisions of the Assam Plantation Labour Act, 1952 have never been sincerely implemented,” he said.

The answer to tackling the Maoist threat could be a uniform development agenda and quick response to localized discontent. “Development must be people-oriented and local communities must be involved in the process, which is not happening at all in Assam. This has an alienating effect on the young generation in the state, especially those from the marginal communities and areas,” said Sharma.

In places where there is all-round development, the Maoist threat is comparatively low. The chief minister’s home district of Jorhat is such an example. “Although we made one arrest, Maoists activities in Jorhat are unlikely in foreseeable future. Apart from the towns, the villages are well developed in the district. So the Maoists do not get ground to breed as favourable conditions do not exist for them,” superintendent of police, Jorhat district, Sanjukta Parashar told INN.
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